Why Flip-Flops Should Be Banned

Our fashion columist on his most hated holiday item – and the alternatives you should be considering 

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So I’m sitting by the pool in Marrakech. It’s not actually that hot, or sunny, but we’re pretending that it is.

Someone, with typical British optimism, says that you can still catch a tan here even in the rain. The only thing we’re likely to catch in this weather is a cold, but we’re on holiday, and so we have to wear holiday clothes. The girls are all in floaty kaftans and J Crew jewels; the guys predictably in Orlebar swim shorts and V-neck T-shirts. While they pour out the white wine – it’s nearly midday after all – I sneakily go and inspect the footwear lying under or next to the sunloungers.

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The ladies are mostly in espadrilles – strappy or wedge ones – and the boys, well, it’s an interesting mix. Despite Birkenstocks being all over the catwalks, there are noneto be seen here.

Instead, there’s one pair of Rivieras (mine), one pair of striped espadrilles and four pairs of flip-flops (three Havaianas, one Topman own label). There is no doubt flip-flops are a practical holiday choice: cheap to buy, light to pack, easy to wear and wholly waterproof.

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But, they have a major flaw: the very sound that has given them their name – that grating flip-flop noise that, in full flow, makes me want to scream. The sound of cheap rubber repetitively smacking against calloused heel is not a pretty one.
My reaction may sound a little extreme, but flip-flops and I have history. As a fully-fledged Central Saint Martins fashion student back in the late Eighties, all my cash was spent on new outfits to parade in the four different nightclubs we religiously went to every week.

This meant that my grant would usually run out three weeks into the new term. After I’d not eaten for weeks, swapped my ghetto blaster for a Tube pass, and been turned down for a Saturday job at Liberty, there was
only one way to earn some extra cash: prostitution.

I rang two dodgy numbers for escort agencies I found in the back of a porn magazine and offered my services. Humiliatingly, they weren’t interested in my sending a photo in, let alone giving me an interview. I must have had a very un-escorty voice. I tried one more number, this time trying to sound like an East End plumber, but still, no luck. I obviously didn’t sound very sexy at all.

Desperate, and hungry, a friend told me about a hospital near London Bridge that paid people to be guinea pigs for new drugs being trialled by the major pharmaceutical companies. You would have to stay at the hospital, for a few days or a week, in special dormitories with a random group of hard-up students, backpackers and fashion victims; some of you were given the drugs, others fed placebos.

You didn’t know who got which. We would all have to eat the same food, sleep the same hours, have regular blood and heart tests throughout the nights and not leave the clinic under any condition. I did two drug trials as a student, although I can’t remember what they were for. I do remember being offered one trial, which paid a lot more than the usual ones, but it involved stopping your heart briefly to see if the drug they were testing would kickstart it alive again. I sensibly decided no Yohji Yamamoto jacket was worth potential heart failure.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that while locked in these over-heated hospital clinics, populated mostly by Australian gap-year students, there was nothing to do but watch daytime telly, read a book and listen to, yes, the click-clack of flip-flops.

All anyone wore in these places were baggy shorts, polo shirts and blasted flip-flops. So when I look at those harmless pieces of foot-shaped rubber, I don’t hear the sound of gentle waves and shifting sand, but the theme tune from Neighbours and a tannoy announcing it was time for another injection.

So what to wear instead? Naturally, as I have a few pairs, I recommend Rivieras: they’re a good price, can look smart or sloppy, and fold up flat to travel. Espadrilles – particularly the striped ones by Castañer – are a chic alternative; and then, of course, there’s this summer’s hot shoe: the Birkenstock.

I was horrified when these were first paraded down the catwalks again, but I’m beginning to come round to the idea. If in a monochrome colour, and a simple design, they can work well with shorts. They look too clunky when teamed with swim shorts, however, which stops them being the perfect holiday shoe.

And if you do insist on opting for something rubbery, try the flip-flop-style sandals by Dan Ward. These have straps, rather than just bits that go between your toes, which reduces the noise pollution immeasurably. Have a great click-clack free holiday.

This article was originally published in May 2014.


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